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Should you allow multiple responses to your poll?

Posted: Feb 6, 2015

Creating an effective poll depends largely on how you allow your users to respond.  Do you allow them to choose multiple answers or do you force them to just choose one?

Purpose of the Poll

3d Pie Chart

Before you can determine the right method for your poll you need to first decide on what the purpose of the poll is. Some example purposes may include:

  • Gathering general feedback
  • Choosing preferences
  • Contests
  • Testing new product ideas
  • Probing for interest

Once you have the purpose spelled out in your head you can better organize the type of answers you want to provide along with the proper way to present them. Let's assume you are running a contest through your polls.  Your contest will have 3 rounds.  Let's walk through the 3 rounds and see when it is most appropriate to use different styles of poll voting.

Multiple Poll Answers

For the first round of your contest you may have a large number of answer choices.  Let's assume 20.  This is a very large list.  It will be really difficult for users to compare all 20 items against each other and determine the one single answer that stands out. For this purpose then we want to allow users to select as many responses as they feel appropriate.  This will result in a wide range of feedback - but is a very appropriate way to narrow down a large list.  As the user scans the list of 20 items they only focus on each item for a brief second.  It they feel it is an appropriate answer choice then they select it and move on.  This allows you to know which items are the most popular amongst the entire list.

Multiple Poll Answers - With a Max

We are now in round two of our contest and we have narrowed our original list of 20 items down to the top 10 (or even the top 8).  This is still a large poll and some users will have difficulty comparing all fo the possible choices against each other the decide on a single preferred choice.  For that reason we are still going to allow multiple answers to be selected - but we are going to enforce a maximum.  In this case you can select up to 3 answer choices. What this does it is allows users to select the answers they feel the most compelled about.  Selecting 3 out of 10 is a lot easier then narrowing it down to a single winner.  Remember that if your users have to think too hard about your poll - they may just leave. This type of poll also helps to keep the choices with the broadest appeal within the contest.  If users are forced to focus on a single result at this point in the contest you may have too much skewing to one side or the other that can cause an underdog choice to be overrepresented.

Single Poll Answer

Now we are in round 3 and it is time to ensure that we have a single winner.  For this round we want to force users to only select a single answer choice from the possibles.  To make it as easy as possible though we are going to only include the top 4 or 5 answer choices.  By doing so users are forced to choose and vote for their favorite regardless of how close their second choice is. You may be asking then about the voters whose primary choice did not make it to the final round.  A lot of these voters may not even complete the poll.  However those that do will end up registering their favorite even if it was a second or third choice.  It really helps you to narrow down whether the answer choice is the right one to distribute to a large audience or not.


The right way to present your answer choices depends largely upon the purpose of the poll.  If you are using it to narrow a large list of options then allow for multiple responses.  if you need to arrive at a single winner or choice then force for only 1 response.  

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